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Sustainability goals

30 January 2024

Partnership working with those who can demonstrate supply chain transparency aids success of sustainability goals, says Ryan Plummer.

Sustainability is undoubtedly and increasingly a top business priority for firms in all sectors and core to their strategies. When it comes to operators in the manufacturing and industrial sector, where environmental impact can be high due elements like energy usage, waste materials and requirements for vast amounts of PPE products, the importance of prioritising the issue is even higher. Sustainability goals are no longer a nice to have, an empty commitment, or a box ticking exercise and organisations realise this and are committed to real action, even in the face of recent major global challenges like Brexit, the pandemic and economic uncertainty. 

In fact, in a report conducted by RS in association with The Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS), 71 per cent of survey respondents cited the consideration of ESG when selecting products and services as important or very important. 

But with sustainability being a real minefield to navigate and comprising many factors to consider, businesses may be finding it hard to make sustainable and responsible purchasing decisions, as well as understand the true impact of supply chains. 

Working with the right partners to help them navigate the complexity of sustainability will enable organisations to achieve their goals and make a tangible difference to environmental impact. Service and solutions providers and distributors that can demonstrate deep collaboration with suppliers, to help meet the growing sustainability needs of customers, should be the go-to for organisations looking to reduce their environmental impact.

Identifying sustainability in the supply chain

Almost a third of procurement professionals surveyed in the RS 2024 Indirect Procurement report, Maintaining Focus, identified sustainable and ethical procurement as an impactful business pressure, affecting how they procure indirect materials. Some 27 per cent cited monitoring suppliers’ sustainability practices as a key issue for procurement over the next 12 months. 

Buyers should be looking out for credible certifications on sustainable products, as well as smart solutions to optimise their operations and supply chain. Thankfully, many suppliers are working together to provide this, demonstrating transparency around products to ensure customers can trust that they are sustainably and responsibly made. 

At RS, the Better World range of products, launched in March 2023, are more sustainable and make it easier for customers to make alternative and, ultimately, more sustainable product choices. The Better World product offering is supported by clear and credible third party certifications, underpinned by a framework developed with a leading product sustainability agency, which supports customers’ requirements for trust. 

The offering has been developed in line with feedback from customers, and this feedback shows that they want products that are sustainably and responsibly made and help them reduce their environmental impact. They seek products and solutions that are more efficient . . . to save energy, reduce water consumption or help cut emissions. And of course, ideally, they want them to have longer and circular life cycles too. People want and deserve to be able to see simple claims they know they can trust. And, for peace of mind, know it’s backed up by an approved third party. 

A greener approach is key

Another area our customer research highlighted as important, was a greener approach to packaging and distribution. They highlighted their desire for us to work with product suppliers and logistics carriers to make their deliveries greener. This means less packaging and for it to be made from sustainable materials which can be recycled or reused. Unnecessary plastic packaging or items that can’t be recycled are a real bugbear for buyers in organisations trying to achieve sustainability goals.

Greener distribution is also key. Working with partners that can demonstrate a low carbon supply chain through measures like improving logistics with local sourcing, storage and shipments or switching to lower-carbon modes including road and sea, can help with sustainability goals. RS’ goal to reduce emissions intensity by 25 per cent by 2030 was achieved in 2023, well ahead of target.

Sustainable packaging is a real focus for RS, with ambitious commitments as part of the 2030 goals to reduce and reuse, and have recycled and recyclable content. Elements like auto-pack machines for made-to-fit boxes are helping reduce packaging and recyclable padded envelopes and reusable eco-totes for European stock movements are all in practice: 94 per cent of our packaging by weight is now recyclable or reusable. By 2030, the EU legislative requirement is 50 per cent recycled content, so buyers should at least be looking to work with suppliers able to demonstrate that. 

Prioritising responsible procurement

Responsible procurement is another area our customers were very passionate about. They want to see evidence of ethical practices which enables them to understand potential risks to their own reputation, but also enhances the confidence they have in us as partners. It’s important for customers to feel as though they are buying from a brand or organisation they can trust, and they want to know from where we source products, how we ensure they’re ethically sound and reliable, and whether we have external parties that measure our progress so we are not marking our own homework!

Issues like cramped working conditions, underpaid workers, modern day slavery or child labour are all real considerations for organisations in this day and age, and we must all work together to ensure the supply chain is free from such risks. Combatting this can only be successful with a collaborative approach, so working with partners with a transparent supply chain with robust checks is key in the fight against poor ethical practices. Buyers should look for tangible evidence that confirm diligent processes around supplier auditing, and third party certification agencies like Eco Vadis are a good indicator. RS partners with EcoVadis to be able to better understand the ESG performance of our strategic suppliers.

The sustainability quest isn’t easy and the landscape is ever-evolving. A multi-faceted approach is the only way to achieve a tangible outcome, but organisations can look to the expertise of partners to help them in this ongoing mission.

Ryan Plummer is director of RS Safety Solutions. For more information, visit https://uk.rs-online.com/